Jeffrey Toobin (The New Yorker, 8/5/13), in discussing “The fight for abortion rights”, says that “[w]hen it comes to public opinion about abortion, a great deal depends on how questions are asked”. Toobin is right to point out that “how questions are asked”–question wording–affects/skews answers. And this is the case whether questions are about abortion or any other topic. It’s impossible to word a question that does not affect the answer to that question.
However, Toobin is off the mark when he fails to acknowledge that what he calls “public opinion about abortion” is nothing more than what people/respondents say is their opinion; it’s their stated opinions; their answers to questions. As we all know, what people say is their opinion is not necessary their actual opinion. Stated opinions are affected/skewed, not only by question wording (see above) and other components of asking instruments, but also by respondents, characteristics of situations in which questions are asked and answers given, and attributes and behaviors of askers.
So when you want to find out about opinions or anything else, don’t ask. That’s the theme of my book, The Problem with Survey Research; my effort to erode confidence in survey research and, thereby, make other procedures–such as experimentation and logical/predictive model building and testing–more attractive and more widely used.